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Fire Ecology, 2011
Volume 7, Issue 3

Long-Term Post-Fire Effects on Spatial Ecology and Reproductive Output of Female Agassiz’s Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) at a Wind Energy Facility near Palm Springs, California, USA
Authors: Jeffrey E. Lovich, Joshua R. Ennen, Sheila V. Madrak, Caleb L. Loughran, Katherin P. Meyer, Terence R. Arundel, and Curtis D. Bjurlin
Pages: 75-87
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0703075

We studied the long-term response of a cohort of eight female Agassiz’s desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) during the first 15 years following a large fire at a wind energy generation facility near Palm Springs, California, USA. The fire burned a significant portion of the study site in 1995. Tortoise activity areas were mapped using minimum convex polygons for a proximate post-fire interval from 1997 to 2000, and a long-term post-fire interval from 2009 to 2010. In addition, we measured the annual reproductive output of eggs each year and monitored the body condition of tortoises over time. One adult female tortoise was killed by the fire and five tortoises bore exposure scars that were not fatal. Despite predictions that tortoises would make the short-distance movements from burned to nearby unburned habitats, most activity areas and their centroids remained in burned areas for the duration of the study. The percentage of activity area burned did not differ significantly between the two monitoring periods. Annual reproductive output and measures of body condition remained statistically similar throughout the monitoring period. Despite changes in plant composition, conditions at this site appeared to be suitable for survival of tortoises following a major fire. High productivity at the site may have buffered tortoises from the adverse impacts of fire if they were not killed outright. Tortoise populations at less productive desert sites may not have adequate resources to sustain normal activity areas, reproductive output, and body conditions following fire.

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